This writeup will discuss The Matrix as a thing; more specifically, a movie. My only comment of review is that I liked its action and its plot and its message and feel that its fans are more heavy-handed with its morality than it was. I am saddened that no one has yet noded The Matrix as a place; a discussion of the symbolism of a place like the matrix would be an interesting read indeed.
The Requisite IMDB Stuff
Written and Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Keanu Reeves Neo
Laurence Fishburne Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss Trinity
Hugo Weaving Agent Smith
Gloria Foster Oracle
Joe Pantoliano Cypher
Everything has its season; everything has its time, and this movie, in recognizing the nature of causality and the unidirectional flow of life, presents a linear plot to the viewer. However, the foreshadowing is unique and the writing complex, so that the movie ultimately transcends its gimmick (that phrase, incidentally, was employed liberally to describe Memento).
The movie opens with creepy green letters and numbers flashing across a black screen--the trademark "Matrix Screensaver." Though we do not know it, it is Trinity and Cypher that we hear conversing cryptically about a "clean line" and finding a guy who is "the one". It's suggested that their call is being traced, and we cut to a hotel room in which Trinity has been captured by police; she escapes and avoids capture with inhuman dexterity and elite kung-fu skills, matched only by those of a cryptic (and rather well-dressed) Agent. Trinity flees to a phone booth, which is flattened by a garbage truck only seconds after she has picked up the phone and disappeared.
Cut to Neo's apartment, where while he dozes, his computer is online in a hax0r chat room, searching for information on "The Matrix". An unexplainable message suddenly appears on his computer and tells him to 'follow the white rabbit', and just like that, his friend Anthony appears at the door. Spotting a small white rabbit on Anthony's girlfriend's jacket, he accepts her invitation to a party. At the club he meets Trinity; they converse on the dance floor and he asks her the central question of the exposition: "What is the Matrix?" She responds that one has to see it to believe it, and cryptically disappears.
Pounding, cacophonous noise is the background to this dance scene and the transition to the morning, where it is Neo's alarm clock that introduces the cut-and-dry corporate lifestyle of Neo's job at a nameless, monolithic software company. His boss tells him that if he is late again, he will be fired ("You have a problem, Mr. Anderson. You think you're special. You believe that somehow the rules do not apply to you."). As he returns to his cubicle, he accepts a FedEx package: it contains a cellular phone. It rings when he opens the package; it is Morpheus. Neo escapes the Agents with Morpheus's guidance and ends up standing out on a window-cleaner's scaffold outside his boss's office, high above the ground. Unable to continue, he runs back inside.
Neo is being interrogated now in a small, sanitary room, surrounded by Agents. Refusing to cooperate, he finds his lips literally sealed; then, producing a weird alien device, they insert some sort of probe into his abdomen in a rather disgusting scene. At the point where he should be screaming, the scene shifts again--to Neo's bed. Waking up, he finds his mouth and stomach apparently unmolested and is relieved; but then the phone rings. Following Morpheus's instructions again, Neo winds up abducted in a black van surrounded by Resistance wackos. After a painful scene in which the 'bug' is removed from Neo's stomach via electrocution and incision, he comes to the top of a large hotel and meets Morpheus. Morpheus offers an eloquent description of the Matrix, and more importantly offers him two pills: red and blue. "You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." Ever the hacker, he takes the red pill. He is hurried into another room, covered with electrodes, and a morphous, liquid mirror reflects the change within himself; as he loses his grasp on life, we fade to the real world.
Neo (naked) falls through an industrial complex of twisty tubules and is sucked up into a spacecraft of some sort, far more advanced than we recognize. He becomes adjusted to his new self and Morpheus fills him in on the plot viscera: the year is about 2200, he is in a ship called the Nebuchadnezzar, his comrades are technopirates. Sentient AI machines engaged in a bloody war with humanity and it looks like the machines won; "fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony", for after the war took away the sun which provided energy for the machines, they came to rely on a new fusion whose motive force was our brain's electricity--the machines began to use the humans. There is a human city called Zion which is full of free people; it was founded by a man to whom the laws of the Matrix did not apply, an ubermensch of sorts. The need of the Matrix to provide a false life to keep humans happy and surviving explains the jack in the back of Neo's neck, which can be employed more pragmatically to teach him jujitsu, kung fu, and "drunken boxing" (a style of kung fu!) from a CD in a matter of hours.
With that bit of exposition out of the way, the rest of the movie follows smoothly. Neo and those around him begin to question whether or not he is 'The One' when he can't jump farther than a normal human, and he realizes that injuries sustained in the fake world carry over to the real world--a mind over matter deal. Neo goes to visit the Oracle; he sees a boy bending a spoon--or, rather, he sees a boy but there is no spoon--and then the Oracle casually tells him "You're not the one...maybe next life." He returns dejected, but the return is not so routine--after experiencing deja vu (which, he is told, signifies a glitch in the Matrix, a significant alteration made by Agents), Neo and his companions are ambushed and Morpheus captured by Agent Smith.
--Plot Spoilers Start To Get Bad Here--
Cypher has orchestrated all this chaos, selling himself out and having been promised a good life in the Matrix in return by. Unfortunately, he miscalculates with his plasma rifle and only kills two of the other resistance members before he is killed. Now returned to the Nebuchadnezzar, Neo and Trinity must rescue Morpheus before the Agents can "crack" his mind and obtain the "access codes" to the "Zion mainframe" (such an action would destroy all the Resistance, you know, because there's no way to tell Zion to change its access codes now--evidently the "cell phone" and the "radio" have been uninvented). Faced with the options of either pulling his plug and rescuing him, Neo and Trinity decide to take the harder of the two and (loaded with guns) rush back into the Matrix.
Running parallel to the action of Neo and Trinity, Agent Smith is narrating his own dissatisfaction with his Matrix lifestyle to Morpheus in another eloquent passage ("I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it...I must get out of here, I must get free. In this mind is the key. My key...once Zion is gone, there's no need for me to be here. Do you understand? I need the codes. I have to get inside Zion. You have to tell me how.").
And meanwhile, in the best action scene of the movie, Neo and Trinity fight their way through the hotel; this movie perfected the idea of bullet time, and it shows itself best right here in reality-defying scene like those of Neo running up a wall. They make it to the rooftop, where they fight a helicopter pilot-turned-Agent and together manage to kill him, Neo dodging almost every bullet slung at him. With the help of a cell phone link to the outside and a CD, they learn how to fly a helicopter; more dazzling action scenes accompany the escape and rescue, a building gets hit by an exploding helicopter and looks really darn cool. They go to a sub station where they can use a telephone land line to bring themselves out of the Matrix; unfortunately, they ignore a bum who (after Trinity and Morpheus leave) becomes Agent Smith, who ends up on the railway tracks while Neo is next to them as a train approaches. Kersplunk, and Agent Smith is down but not out (impossibly, he steps out of the train unharmed).
The final nail-biting end to the movie is found while inside of the Matrix, Neo rushes to find an acceptable phone, and in the real world, the Nebuchadnezzar is under assault by evil insect-like robots. Neo's land line is in a hotel--in fact, the same hotel from which Trinity escaped in the beginning, modeled after a real place in the Wachowskis' hometown Chicago (thanks Walter). Neo tries to get to Room 303, where his land line is, but he ends up dead in the hallway, full of bullet holes produced by Agent Smith's .45. Meanwhile, the insect-creatures have pierced the hull and are directly attacking the Resistance members, who prepare to use the EMP attack the ship has. Miraculously, Neo springs back to life and wastes Agent Smith, turning his bullet around in mid-air--he has mastered bullet time and is now stopping time within the Matrix. (in the Matrix, time is a social construct). Neo then runs for the phone in Room 303, still ringing; he grabs it and whooshes out of the Matrix, and just then Morpheus launches the EMP attack that shuts down all electronics, including the evil critters whose lasers were gnawing at the ship's innards.
The film concludes with another green-on-black screensaver screen (the first time I saw it, the first thing I thought was 'wow, that would make a good screensaver') and Neo's voiceover; he tells the listener (the logging computer program, the Matrix) that things are going to change--a perfect way to sell two sequels.
Your Radical Ideas About The Matrix Have Already Occurred to Others
This movie is brilliant in terms of directing; all the scenes are right-on, the action is unequalled if not in terms of realism then in terms of looking really pretty. The bullet time approach to action, in which time slows down while the people fight, was co-opted immediately after this film's release by, well, everyone. The special effects are right-on, too; lots of explosions, lots of good ninja-esque fighting (it's no Crouching Tiger, but it's got its own style), lots of funky electronics. The high-tech view is brilliantly and wittily self-satirical; the hacker-chatroom material at the very beginning, in particular, is greatly amusing.
The movie's superficial theme (things aren't always what they seem, Equo ne credite, living a lie, how do we know that we don't inhabit a world which was created--memories and all--only three minutes ago?) doesn't seem to speak to anyone. On the other hand, everyone and her dog thinks that there is Christ imagery, Zoroastrianism, life metaphors, warning against overenhanced AI, cyberpunk with a heart, or criticism of modern conformity inherent in The Matrix. I wish I could say YOU ARE WRONG IT IS JUST A MOVIE STOP TRYING TO DRAW LIFE LESSONS FROM IT, but I think there is a grain of truth to what they say. Still, I wouldn't blow the metaphor out of proportion, and I would hope that we do not need quite so drastic a cautionary tale--heck, we've been trying our very hardest for a long time to formulate AI and I don't see any immediate risk of them overpowering us. But irrespective of whatever messages the Wachowski brothers might have put into the movie, there does remain the basic theme of overcoming oppression and wrong through struggle, of right overcoming might. The message I got from this movie was that if I have enough guns and kung fu training, and I think I am right and my opponents are not, then I will win a pitched gun battle. Well, it wasn't the only message. But it was one of the stronger ones.
Nothing besides the special effects in this movie are original. All the science questions have been asked with more depth and at greater length by sf authors and Greek philosophers already; but there's no harm in asking them again, and especially none in asking the captive audience that is the theater-going population.
My favorite part of the Matrix soundtrack is "Look to Your Orb for the Warning", at least because of the title, but also because it starts out lighter than any of the rest. Like the Matrix, I can't tell you about the music--you have to listen yourself to find out. "Spybreak" is a decent beat, but only a decent song; on the other hand, when you use it during a fight scene in a movie with slow time, it becomes incredible background music. Most of the rest of the soundtrack (noded in detail above) is the same kind of heavy-metal beat, and I love it to little pieces. It's better to fall asleep to than to wake to, though. After you've seen the movie and if you felt the conclusion was a little weak, construct your own denouement! Using your favorite video player, loop the fight scene in the hotel lobby, mute the sound, and play the different songs from the soundtrack! If you are still dissatisfied, consider replicating this scene (using blanks and actors, of course) in a local hotel; send me pictures, please.
http://us.imdb.com/Title?0133093/40 : "The movie also introduced the long black coats,which are still worn by a lot of people."